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Egypt’s opposition defies call for dialogue, marches on presidential palace

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Thousands of Morsi supporters, for their part, marched Friday from Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque in a funeral procession for comrades killed in clashes this week with Morsi opponents. As many as seven people died in the violence, and Morsi’s Islamist supporters say six of them were from their side.

Opposition leaders rejected Morsi’s invitation to participate in a national dialogue on Saturday at the palace. An alliance of prominent opposition figures, calling itself the National Salvation Front, said in a statement Friday that the invitation failed to meet “the principles of real and serious negotiations” and displayed “complete disregard for the main demands” of the front. The group’s demands include the annulment of a decree that granted Morsi the power to legislate without oversight and cancellation of the president’s plans to hold a national referendum on a controversial draft constitution on Dec. 15.

Gamal Hishmet, a leader of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, said Friday night that the referendum has not been delayed.

“The referendum will not be postponed without a constitutional announcement, and the president will not agree [to do that] unless there is a dialogue between the national powers, and that is the dialogue that the president called for tomorrow,” Hishmet said.

Earlier, the head of the country’s elections committee, Ismail Hamdi, said the start of week-long early voting by Egyptians who live abroad would be postponed four days, the Associated Press reported. Hamdi said the expatriate voting on the proposed constitution, originally scheduled to start Saturday, would begin Wednesday instead.

In a televised speech Thursday night, Morsi coupled his invitation to a national dialogue with a denunciation of Wednesday night’s deadly clashes between his Islamist backers and liberal, secular and other government critics. He described the violence as the work of “infiltrators” inside the opposition who had been paid to perpetrate “thuggery” and “terrorism.”

For Morsi’s opponents, who see Egypt’s first democratically elected president as an Islamist dictator in the making, Morsi’s rhetoric was combative. They view it as fanning the flames of an increasingly polarized political crisis, now in its third week.

After the speech, anti-Morsi protesters looted and ransacked the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s political base, and a smaller outlying office. And as protesters marched through the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis on Friday afternoon, heading toward the presidential palace, many said that Morsi’s address delivered far too little, too late.

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